Ethics is essentially doing the right thing regardless of other’s expectations. Doesn’t seem real complicated or difficult. You’d think that doing the right thing is something we would all instinctively do, yet given the magnitude of individuals and companies who so often do not “do the right thing,” teaching ethics, expecting ethical behaviors and applauding ethics needs to become part of a company’s culture and part of school curriculums. WLIW, in association with WNET New York Public Media, is now doing just that.
Earlier this year WLIW and WNET, which is the flagship public television station of the New York City tri-state area, and the most watched public television channel in the country, aired on most PBS stations a series of mini-documentaries through American Public Television called Playing By the Rules: Ethics At Work. Episode 1 was called “The Whistleblower”; Episode 2, “Ask Why”; and Episode 3, “The Run Coal Memos.” The three-episode public media series explored real cases of fraud, whistleblowing, and corporate scandal.
In Episode 1 the focus was on Citigroup and Sherry Hunt, a vice president and chief underwriter at CitiMortgage who reported to me while I was at Citigroup. After I attempted to warn Citi management and board of directors about the fraudulent practices reported to me by Sherry and others, I was stripped of my responsibilities and told not to return to the bank.
Sherry then continued the fight and the episode primarily chronicles her efforts four years later to blow the whistle on the continuing fraud as the company sold mortgage loans that did not meet published standards. I had the honor of being featured in it with the information I discovered and eventually testified on.
WLIW and WNET have taken the series even further and repackaged their Playing By The Rules: Ethics at Work three-episode series into comprehensive teaching aids with academic business case studies and instructor materials for graduate and undergraduate studies. The importance of teaching ethics in our schools and universities so as to lay a foundation students can follow when they enter the business world is critical. WLIW and WNET are to be applauded for what they have accomplished.
They describe the work as “intended for use in undergraduate and graduate business school classrooms. Each episode of the series can be used to initiate in-class discussion, debate, and written assignments. These real-life stories provoke the question, “What would you do?” and subsequently provide the basis for rich student reflection and discussion.”
The work includes assignments, from writing about the cases in question or ethical dilemmas the students themselves have faced to topics for debate with students arguing in favor or against the actions of whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden. Each team then states their case and a separate student group of judges would question, deliberate and return with a “final verdict and reasoning for their decision.”
The study guides prepared for each episode are extensive and pose challenging questions. They include background reading on ethical decision-making models, and offer “an ethical framework” which can be useful when analyzing cases as a guide for exploring various ways to approach a problem. The “three frameworks presented here — ethical, duty, and virtue — are commonly used in decision-making or critical analysis.”
“Making good ethical decisions requires a trained sensitivity to ethical issues and a practiced method for exploring the ethical aspects of a decision and weighing the considerations that should impact our choice of a course of action. Having a method for ethical decision making is essential. When practiced regularly, the method becomes so familiar that we work through it automatically without consulting the specific steps.” (Excerpted from “A Framework for Making Ethical Decisions,” Brown University, 2013).
The series recommends several optional reading resources. I can personally recommend another, Resisting Corporate Corruption: Cases in Practical Ethics From Enron Through the Financial Crisis, 2nd Edition, by Stephen V. Arbogast, a former treasurer at Exxon Mobil Chemical Company who has taught at both Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business in New York and Rice University’s Jesse Jones Graduate School of Management in Houston. Among the 25 case studies included in the book which covers a full range of business practices, controls, and ethics issues is Case Study 10, “Write to Rubin?” on my situation at Citigroup and Case Study 13, “Take CitiMortgage to the Feds?” which is about Sherry Hunt.
As WLIW and WNET said, “Ethics play a major role in contemporary business practices. From debating whether or not to act on insider information, choosing between employee well being or shareholder obligations, or disclosing a rare but potentiality fatal side effect of a newly manufactured drug — ethical decision making is a critical skill. But even the most moral character can be influenced in ethical gray areas.”
Bravo to both for what they have accomplished. If used effectively in the classroom it may just have an impact on how students who will be the next generation in the C-suite guide their companies.